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The Crestones

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Crestone Peak / North Pillar T 
Crestone Peak North Buttress T 
Crestone Traverse T 
Ellingwood Ledges T 
India T 
Kit Carson / The Prow T 
Northwest Couloir T 

The Crestones Rock Climbing 

Photos:  Recent | Best | Popular
Elevation: 14,294'
Location: 37.9667, -105.585 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 26,537
Administrators: Ben Mottinger, Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monomaniac, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide), Emily Roeben
Submitted By: Ben Mottinger on Jan 1, 2001
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Fun scrambling can be had right on the approach tr...


Some of the most jagged and spectacular peaks in Colorado--The Crestones. Both the Crestone Peak (14,294') and the Crestone Needle (14,197') are also two of the most difficult 14'ers in Colorado. They lie within wilderness in the narrow Sangre de Cristo Range in the south central part of the state. The best climbing season is from late June-September although there are some good snow/ice climbs also. There are several technical routes in the Crestone group including Ellingwood Ledges (part of Fifty Classic Climbs of North America) and the NW Pillar on the Peak.

In addition, there are some 14'ers including Humboldt Peak (14,064'), Challenger Point (14,080'), and Kit Carson (14,165') and bunches of 13'ers including Broken Hand Peak (13,573'), Lone Horn Peak (13,143'), Mt. Adams, (13.931'), Colony Baldy (13,707'), Milkwaukee Peak (13,522'), Marble Mt. (13,266'), Music Mt. (13,355') in the area to supplement your hiking needs.

Getting There 

The shortest (although not best) approach to these peaks is via the East side. Drive to Westcliff from CO Hwy 96. Go 4.6 miles. S on CO 69, the take 119 5.6 miles to 120. Turn right and take the dirt road to a gate. Cars without 4WD Low should park here and walk the remaining 5 miles to the trailhead. Those with a good vehicle can take the 4x4 trail. Eds. the 4WD road is closed 3 miles from the old 4WD trailhead. Note that this 4x4 trail is not easy. I would not attempt this trail in any vehicle without 4WD, good tires, and plenty of clearance. FWIW, in the old days, 4WD vehicles were only barely faster than walkers on the last 3 miles.

From the new trailhead, you walk 3 miles up the gentle grade of the old 4WD road. Just before a stream crossing, you have a choice. You can head right up a more forested trail that gets you to just above the Lower South Colony Lake or continue up the slightly longer left fork that approaches the Lower South Colony Lake from below.

If you access the Broken Hand Pass (Standard Crestone Needle access), the trail switchbacks quickly from near the SE corner of the Lower South Colony Lake. There is no established trail on the southern shores of South Colony Lake.

Alternative approach: From the West side, take the Cottonwood Creek trail 6 miles and about 4500 feet of elevation gain to the lake on the Crestones SW side. I prefer this approach since there are far less people and the scenery is nicer.


There are camping spots around the Upper and Lower South Colony Lakes that are heavily used by peak baggers. Note, although closer to the starts of the climbs, there is little wind protection around Upper South Colony Lakes due to its being above treeline. You must camp 300 feet from any water source. Ear plugs may help for good sleep with windy conditions. Protecting your food from inquisitive animals is recommended. Water treatment is strongly advised.

Climbing Season

Weather station 5.3 miles from here

7 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',2],['3 Stars',3],['2 Stars',2],['1 Star',0],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in The Crestones

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for The Crestones:
Northwest Couloir        Trad, Alpine, Grade II   
Crestone Traverse   4th 1 2 I 2 M 1b     Trad, Alpine, Grade II   
Crestone Peak North Buttress   Easy 5th 1+ 3 I 5 M 1c PG13     Trad, Alpine, 1100'   
Ellingwood Ledges   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Kit Carson / The Prow   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Crestone Peak / North Pillar   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c R     Trad, Alpine, Grade III   
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in The Crestones

Featured Route For The Crestones
Rock Climbing Photo: Near head on view of The Prow from the south.

Kit Carson / The Prow 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c CO : Alpine Rock : The Crestones
The Prow is the prominent "Fin" that rises along the southwest ridge of Kit Carson Mountain. The rock is beautiful "Crestone conglomerate", basically smooth, consolidated lava and granite with big jugs all over the place. They look like they could just break off in your hand, but when you grab them they are very solid.Ascend up to the base of The Prow on 3rd class terrain. The climb starts with a hard to protect, 5.8 move up a bulge with a few loose blocks. After that, the route finding and cl...[more]   Browse More Classics in CO

Photos of The Crestones Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: An unusual view of the Crestones from the summit o...
An unusual view of the Crestones from the summit o...
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestones, seen from near summit of Kit Carson, wi...
Crestones, seen from near summit of Kit Carson, wi...
Rock Climbing Photo: The Crestones and Great Sand Dunes - Fall, 2001.
The Crestones and Great Sand Dunes - Fall, 2001.
Rock Climbing Photo: The Crestones, ENE Face.
BETA PHOTO: The Crestones, ENE Face.
Rock Climbing Photo: Sangre De Cristo Range, early dawn 3-2009.
Sangre De Cristo Range, early dawn 3-2009.
Rock Climbing Photo: Paul Crowder enjoying a calm clear February day on...
Paul Crowder enjoying a calm clear February day on...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking at Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Pea...
Looking at Crestone Needle (left) and Crestone Pea...
Rock Climbing Photo: View to the south from the top of Crestone Needle,...
View to the south from the top of Crestone Needle,...
Rock Climbing Photo: 2WD trailhead, 5.5 miles from 4WD TH.
2WD trailhead, 5.5 miles from 4WD TH.
Rock Climbing Photo: Dig that crazy Crestone Needle conglomerate.
Dig that crazy Crestone Needle conglomerate.
Rock Climbing Photo: The Black Gendarme.
The Black Gendarme.
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up the Ellingwood Ledges from near Upper C...
Looking up the Ellingwood Ledges from near Upper C...
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestone Needle from below Crestone Peak.
Crestone Needle from below Crestone Peak.
Rock Climbing Photo: Rusty old pin on the final stretch to the summit o...
Rusty old pin on the final stretch to the summit o...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking at Crestone Needle from Lower South Colony...
Looking at Crestone Needle from Lower South Colony...
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestone Needle in Winter dusk, 02/27/09.
Crestone Needle in Winter dusk, 02/27/09.
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestone Needle from Humboldt Peak.
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle from Humboldt Peak.
Rock Climbing Photo: Todd signing into the register, 02/27/09.
Todd signing into the register, 02/27/09.
Rock Climbing Photo: Approach to couloir on way to Crestone Needle, 02/...
Approach to couloir on way to Crestone Needle, 02/...
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestone Needle.
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle.
Rock Climbing Photo: Crestone Needle in Feb 2009.  Our route goes up th...
BETA PHOTO: Crestone Needle in Feb 2009. Our route goes up th...

Comments on The Crestones Add Comment
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By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Aug 12, 2002
Hey, has anybody ever climbed the "Black Gendarme", the spectacular tower on the ridge between Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak? This is the spectacular tower near the low-point of the traverse. photo of the whole ridge here ... Black Gendarme from the west

We spotted a wicked crack on the SW side with slings at it's top. Looked wide and burly but was the only route evident on the west side. That is one wild tower!
By Matt White
Feb 10, 2003
That is an amazing looking tower, isn't it? Good ol' Harvey T. Carter claimed the first ascent of the Black Gendarme in the early 1960's. See W.M. Bueller's "Roof of the Rockies" for more details.
By Bill Wright
Jun 23, 2003
Does anyone know if the Ellingwood Ledges route and the Prow have been linked before? Since these are the two most famous climbs in the area, it seems like someone would have done this before, including the traverse between the Needle and the Peak as the approach to the Prow.
By Jason williams
From: Parker, Colorado
Sep 22, 2003
We were up there this weekend with really perfect weather. Wanting to avoid an insurance claim on the truck I just bought, it took us over 2hrs to complete the 5 mile 4wd road in my Dodge Ram 1500. It seems 4runners and jeeps have the easiest time on this road. We were told by several climbers on the way in that the last pitch on the headwall of Ellingwood Ledges is completely iced up, as well as the surrounding cracks. The days have been nice and warm lately (60s), but the nights dip below freezing. The headwall only gets a couple hours of sunlight each day, probably not allowing time for the ice to thaw. To answer Bill Wright's question, it IS possible to do The Prow from the Ellingwood area? We hiked up the trail from "upper" S. Colony Lake to the saddle of Humboldt Peak, then broke NW along the ridge which will gradually drop you down to the Bears Playground. From here, you can see the obvious awesome Prow about 2 miles away. Keep in mind you do not want to reverse the ridge at night. Several sections are only 3ft wide and some with snow and ice that's challenging enough in the middle of the day. Start early and haul ass and it can be done.
By Jeff Bevan
Aug 14, 2007
My partner and I did the Ellingwood Ledges & Peak Traverse part of the link up on Monday. I have done the Prow as well on a separate excursion. While I am no marathon maniac, the feat is doable. First off a good working knowledge of the traverse is mandatory as it isn't all that intuitive and is usually done in the reverse direction. After dropping all the way down the North/west couloir on Crestone Peak, it is most likely a long mile over to the start of the Prow on pretty reasonable terrain. Ending the day back at S. Colony is going to be the ball buster as going back up over the Bears Playground after all that ground is going to separate the men from the boyz so to speak. But then those of you who chase these dreams are made of the stuff the others of us only dream of.
By Julian Smith
From: Colorado Springs, CO
Aug 2, 2009
A bit more on the marathon stuffÂ… left the trailhead at 3:30 AM, hiked to upper South Colony Lake and had to pace around in the dark to wait for enough light to solo the direct start of the Ellingwood Arete; arrived on the summit at 7:34 AM. Down-climbed the rappel and traversed over to Crestone Peak, which is way more complicated than I gave it credit for; arrived at 9:35 AM. Descended the North Couloir, crossed over the Bears Playground, and climbed Humboldt Peak; arrived at the summit at 11:45 AM. Descended back to the trailhead by 1:07 PM. I call this the South Colony Lakes Trifecta; my first three-bagger! (not as stout as doing the South Prow instead of Humboldt...)
By John Korfmacher
From: Fort Collins, CO
Sep 8, 2009
An update on the S. Colony Lakes access road...the Forest Service is constructing a new trailhead about 0.5 km past the Rainbow Trail intersection, and installed a heavy-duty gate just past the parking area. I don't know what that implies for future 4WD access, but in any event, the lower part of the road has been recently maintained and it is now passable to skillfully-driven 2WD vehicles as far as the new parking lot. The new lot is still about 5 km from the old 4WD trailhead farther up the valley. The upper part of the road is still godawful.

Camping at lower S. Colony Lake was very crowded on Labor Day weekend. There are a large number of fairly good sites southeast of the lake, near the old hiking trail that went unnoticed and unoccupied. PLEASE be careful with waste disposal, litter, fires, etc. in this area.

If you are of a mind to pack a fishing pole along with your rope, both S. Colony Lakes have sizable populations of cutthroat trout.
By Jim Amidon
Nov 24, 2009
Custer County South Colony Road Closure Begins This Month
Westcliffe, Colo., October 1, 2009 - The U.S. Forest Service - San Isabel National Forest, San Carlos Ranger District will permanently close the upper half of the South Colony Road, Forest Service Road (FSR) 120 to motor vehicles on October 13, 2009.

The closure near the Custer and Huerfano County line will occur approx. 2.7 miles above the lower parking lot or 0.2 miles above the Rainbow Trail before the first stream crossing. A trailhead, information kiosk, foot bridge and primitive camping facilities have been constructed at the closure point. The parking area will accommodate about 50 vehicles.

These actions are needed to protect the physical and biological environment surrounding the lakes, streams, trailheads, and routes to the nearby peaks from the steadily increasing levels of recreation use in South Colony Basin.

This action responds to the goals and objectives outlined in the Pike and San Isabel Forest Plan, and helps move South Colony Basin towards desired conditions described in that plan. This action is being implemented in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the management of the South Colony Basin. The purpose is to:

Maintain South Colony Basin in a natural condition while accommodating human uses.
Offer recreational opportunities within a natural setting that enhance the visitor's outdoor experience; including opportunities for challenge, self-reliance, and risk.
Provide for public health and safety commensurate with the backcountry setting.
Minimize the costs for maintaining roads, trails and trailhead facilities.
By Leo Paik
From: Westminster, Colorado
Sep 3, 2010
The Forest Service is considering charging for permits in the South Colony Lakes area at the cost of $10/day/person for day trips, and $20/trip/person for overnights during May 1-Oct 1. Children less than 18 would be free. These would be available online or with exact change at the trailheads. Consider contacting the FS if you have opinions on the matter.

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